SALT LAKE CITY — Knicks president Steve Mills and coach Jeff Hornacek left the arena floor together after Friday’s shootaround and had a private conversation outside the visiting locker room.
A report Thursday said Hornacek’s future is uncertain. Hornacek, however, said he’s very comfortable with the support he’s received from management and that they’re all on the same page.
Hornacek said he isn’t worried about his job and added that despite the Knicks’ fast start to the season, Mills and general manager Scott Perry haven’t changed their expectations. This was considered a rebuilding and developing year before the season started, and Hornacek said it still is.
“Scott and Steve, everybody’s still on the same page of trying to get our young guys opportunities,” Hornacek said after the shootaround. “We’re still trying to win games. We still want to establish an identity where defensively we’re going to get after it all the time, and we’re building toward that. It’s great to have their support.”
Hornacek said if anyone’s expectations have changed, it’s the players. Running out to a 17-14 start because of a heavy home schedule had the players constantly talking about the postseason, but the Knicks have come down to Earth. They brought a 20-25 record into Friday night’s game against the Jazz and had lost 11 of their last 14. They also were 5-16 on the road.
Hornacek stressed the importance of winning, but he said it’s still about the team growing and developing.
“You hear them [the players] talking about, ‘Oh, we can make the playoffs.’ We never said it,” Hornacek said. “We said we want to get better and we want to grow. Part of our talk was you can’t worry about the results. You just got to go out there and if you do your best and try to improve, the results will come. When you start thinking about win or lose, all of a sudden your mentality becomes different. We got to get back to that.
“You always want to win. We know it’s a process that we kind of got to grow to. Players want to win every game. Coaches want to win every game. Management wants to win every game. But you also have to keep that big picture in mind and always think about, ‘Are we making strides or are we just trying to win games and the strides stop?’ We always have to keep that in mind.”
With the trade deadline less than three weeks away, management probably is more focused on the roster. The Knicks still need a point guard and they want a wing player. If they continue to fade, they could be sellers and try to add more young players and assets.
Regardless, there are no guarantees that Hornacek will be coaching the Knicks beyond this season. He was hired by former president Phil Jackson, not Mills or Perry, and the new regime has brought in several new front-office people.
It would be difficult for Hornacek to go into next season on an expiring contract. The report said former Knick Mark Jackson is a possible replacement.
Courtney Lee came out in support of Hornacek, saying his job security shouldn’t be questioned right now.
“I think he’s been doing a phenomenal job, man,” Lee said. “You can’t blame some of these errors in games on him, man, because we’re the ones out there.
“You give us the blueprint and we’re supposed to go out there and execute. So when we go out there and we’re messing up plays or we get good shots and we’re just missing them, or we’re not starting games with enough intensity and effort on the defensive end, you can’t blame him for that. That’s on us. That’s something on us as players [that we] have to come together collectively and fix. I think he’s done a great job.”
Hornacek definitely feels more support from management than he did in his first coaching job in Phoenix.
After the Suns won 48 games in a rebuilding year, expectations changed throughout the organization. Some injuries and ill-advised trades tore down that team, and Hornacek was fired during his third season.
Hornacek, however, said he is focused on building up the Knicks and is not concerned about his own future.
“No,” he said. “No. You just keep doing the best you can. The coaches, we work hard with what we’re trying to do. Players are trying to do their best. It’s a constant job that you continue to work at. We do our jobs.”